The Ravens' 23-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night might have come at the cost of two of the team's top receivers and ultimately necessitated a trade.
Steve Smith Sr., quarterback Joe Flacco's top target, has microfractures in his back and is expected to miss some time. Michael Campanaro's season is over because of a herniated disk in his back. The two injuries prompted the Ravens on Saturday to send a 2018 seventh-round NFL draft pick to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for wide receiver Chris Givens.
Givens, 25, had fallen down the Rams wide receiver depth chart and, in three games this season, had just one catch for 7 yards. But he provides the outside speed the Ravens lack with first-round pick Breshad Perriman sidelined with a knee injury.
Before acquiring Givens, the Ravens were down to just three healthy wide receivers: Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and sixth-round pick Darren Waller. They also have Jeremy Ross and Jeremy Butler on the practice squad.
Smith was knocked out of the game Thursday late in the third quarter after he was driven out of bounds by Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons. A Ravens spokesman acknowledged Saturday that Smith is dealing with a back injury that will not require surgery.
John Harbaugh confirmed to The Baltimore Sun that Smith is dealing with back microfractures, which he disclosed to Comcast SportsNet in an interview Saturday.
"While the Ravens do not give specifics about injuries out of respect to the men on our team and HIPAA laws, we want to dispel rumors and stories currently being reported about Steve Smith Sr.'s injury," Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne said in a statement. "He does have a back injury. It is not a surgical issue. His status is currently week-to-week."
Smith is the team's leading receiver, with 29 catches for 373 yards and two touchdowns. After the game, Smith acknowledged that he was extremely sore, saying he felt like a 36-year-old for the first time in his career.
Smith's status will be monitored closely throughout next week as the Ravens (1-3) prepare for next Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. With extra padding and protection, it is possible that Smith won't miss a significant amount of time, but his pain threshold ultimately will be key. Harbaugh said in the Comcast SportsNet interview Saturday that Smith will not play against the Browns.
His competitiveness and desire to be on the field are well documented, and he won't want to spend much time on the sideline in this, his 15th and final season.
Campanaro's injury, meanwhile, is the latest setback for the former River Hill and Wake Forest standout, whose hamstring limited him to just four games last year in his rookie season. It also comes after offensive coordinator Marc Trestman had vowed to get Campanaro more involved in the offense.
Campanaro, who had a 9-yard rushing touchdown and two catches for 16 yards against Pittsburgh, was hurt on a catch in the fourth quarter. An MRI revealed the herniated disk in his back. While the injury is serious enough to sideline him for several weeks, it isn't necessarily season ending.
But the Ravens needed a roster spot, so they decided to put Campanaro on injured reserve. Givens will be added to the 53-man roster and practice with the Ravens when they return to work next week.
Givens, a fourth-round pick in 2012 out of Wake Forest, has 88 catches for 1,433 yards and four touchdowns in parts of four NFL seasons. His best season was his rookie year, in 2012, when Givens had 42 catches for 698 yards and three touchdowns.
But Givens' production has dropped every year since. Last season, he had just 11 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown and was targeted 20 times in 14 games. This year, he had his only catch against the Washington Redskins in Week 2 while playing behind Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin (Dunbar) and Stedman Bailey.
The Ravens had been looking to acquire a deep threat for weeks, and Givens has the ability to get behind a defense. He has averaged 16.3 yards per reception in his career.
With Campanaro out and Smith and Perriman ailing, the Ravens might need Givens to contribute immediately. Perriman had his knee scoped Wednesday, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a pregame interview with WBAL (1090 AM) on Thursday that the rookie is dealing with a "slow-healing ligament" and that it's going to be a "little bit of time" before he's ready to play.
Flacco already has been forced to deal with changing offensive personnel. Starting left tackle Eugene Monroe went down on the first drive of the season and has missed the past three games with a concussion. Tight end Crockett Gillmore missed the game against the Steelers with a calf injury.
With Smith and Perriman hurt Thursday, Flacco was forced to rely on Aiken, Brown and Waller down the stretch. Givens now will enter that mix.
"It's not my job to look at who we have out there," Flacco said after Thursday's game. "It's my job to see whoever it is that gets open and then hit them and give him a chance to make the catch."
The Ravens will have some decisions to make at returner. Campanaro was the team's primary kick returner and recently had taken over for Smith on punt returns. Their injuries leave Lardarius Webb as the only experienced punt returner on the active roster, and the Ravens might not want to risk injury to one of their top cornerbacks.
Running backs Lorenzo Taliaferro and Buck Allen have been the backups at kick returner. Givens does have return experience, averaging 22.9 yards on 28 career kick returns. Another possibility is bringing up Ross or cornerback Asa Jackson, both of whom have return experience, off the practice squad.